Teenagers and SPD: They Will Drive!
At some point my child may drive a car. It’s a scary thought, but he’s 13, so it’s a real possibility. Regardless of Sensory Processing Disorder, he will most likely be given a driver’s license in 3 years, and join all the others jacked up on Starbucks on the road. I guess it’s not fair to judge his driving skills based on his inability to manage Autotopia at Disneyland (those cars are jerky), so I’ve decided to make driving preparation my mission in life.
Do you have a pre-teen or a teenager with SPD?
What better way to practice driving then letting him steer the shopping cart, especially at Costco! But more on that later.
SPD and Driving
Part of having SPD is sensory overload. And when you break down driving, your senses are being bombarded and you’re on high alert. Imagine a teenager with SPD driving…and receiving a text, their phone is chiming like a casino slot machine. While the radio is blasting. A truck is riding their bumper. And a bicyclist in the bike lane. The lights change from yellow to red.
Now take it step deeper into their SPD minds. The sun is blazing through the window. The car is making whirring noises at stop signs. A siren blasts by. The car smells of day old french fries from last nights In-N-Out. They world is whizzing by them. Add their proprioception system is navigating their foot from the gas pedal to brake pedal and back again, time and again, and you start to see how even a typical person without SPD could be overwhelmed at the wheel.
SPD and Driving Preparation
Since I’m not going to wait three years and then say, “Congrats on getting your license,” I’m starting to prep yesterday. By that I mean we’re already working on skills that I want to be automatic when he is driving.
I make my son focus on where we are when I drive. We started by asking him which street we were on at any given time. Then which freeway. Next we kicked it up to landmarks and buildings and just being aware of where he was. You will realize very quickly how observant your child is. If they’re used to watching their phones or tablets in the car, you’re gonna see just how little they actually look out the window. It’s time to look outside!
We advanced into asking him routes. Where should I go now? Which direction should I turn? Some days hes not in the mood for this, or we’re in a hurry, and you don’t have to do this all the time, but make sure to actually have them participate in directions.
Yes, my son knows how to program the navigation system in the car, but he also has to know how to get to local places without a computer telling him where to go. And he still needs to know North West as more than just a rap star’s daughter. Practice directions using North, South, East and West when they’re ready.
I ask questions such as, “Who has the right away in the crosswalk?” “How long before the stop sign should I put my blinker on?” Pick up your state’s driving laws at your local DMV and have your teenager read it. You read it, a refresher is probably a good idea anyways. And then discuss the laws while you’re practicing them.
The more you practice with your child, the more it will become second nature to them.
4. Phone Safety
We do not text and drive, and I rarely talk on the phone and drive and even the phone set up through my car. I’m setting an example that my son can not text and drive. Ever.
If we have an important text or call to make, we pull over in a parking lot or on the side of the road where it’s safe.
Let them Steer the Shopping Cart
Who knew steering the shopping cart at Costco was such a huge sensory processing experience, much like driving a car. See where I’m headed? I asked my son to take over cart duty the other day and I was shocked at how hard this was for him.
Navigating through the crowds without bumping into a grandpa loading up on toilet paper, or a mom whose toddler is crawling under her cart is a challenge for anyone. He had a particularly challenging time when he’d get distracted. “Oh, free sample,” and bam, he’d hit the neatly folded jeans stacked to the ceiling. Luckily, nobody was hurt while he was steering!
From now on, he’ll be on Costco shopping cart duty.
Benefits of Costco Sensory Therapy
There are so many benefits to doing this. Just think of the executive functioning skills alone. Shopping cart jams are similar to traffic jams, so allow them to figure out when to push forcefully onward, and when to stop and wait for others to pass.
- Forces them to focus on task at hand.
- Observe their surroundings and plan ahead.
- Spatial awareness and depth perception (huge driving skills).
- Multi-Sensory Systems workout (his vestibular and proprioception systems are doing heavy lifting, while auditory, olfactory and vision are dancing together).
Lastly, instruct them to return the cart when they’re ready. It was a long time before my son would look both ways before running in front of cars, so use your best judgement on letting them loose in the parking lot. Drivers can be cray-cray and remember that they’re detracted too.
More Teenager and SPD tips each month!
I have a teenager with SPD and I have SPD, so I get it. Most of the information I find on the web is for our little ones, but what about when they grow up? And they do grow up quickly. Stick around and lets explore our teenagers with SPD and how we can help them live the most productive and fulfilling lives. And you know I’ll get the experts involved. We can do this together!
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Have any teenager and SPD tips for us? Is your teenager with SPD already driving?!?! You probably have your own wealth of information to share! Please do. Or do you have any questions for the experts? We’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by, Jackie Linder Olson